Cognitive Training and Lumosity

Image courtesy of Luminosity.
Image courtesy of Luminosity.
Image courtesy of Luminosity.

The first time I heard about Lumosity was just a few days ago when a family member signed me up for the service. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what it was until I went to Luminosity’s website. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with Luminosity either, it is a self-described “brain-training” service designed by neuroscientists. Their website claims that cognitive functioning can be improved by “training” and playing a variety of these neuroscientist-designed games a few times a week. Luminosity also boasts over 40 million users of their product, but the catch is that you have to pay for it.

Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive about this claim that cognitive functioning could be improved through the use of these brain-training exercises. Regardless, I decided to sign up and give it a try. The website asks you a few questions about which cognitive abilities you want to focus on – speed, flexibility, attention, problem-solving, and memory. You can further select more specific areas within these five categories that you want to train at, for example, remembering names after first meeting somebody. Given my uncertainty about what I was getting myself into, I just chose all five of the categories to improve at. Luminosity suggests that users complete daily exercises approximately three to four times a week; these exercises consist of around four games designed around improving speed, flexibility, attention, problem solving, and memory.

Today was the fourth day that I completed these daily exercises. I have been quite interested to see if this brain training has any self-perceived effect. I noticed that I have gotten better at the different games that are part of the training program, however the key question that I have is: is my brain functioning actually improving or am I just adapting to these games? I am curious to know if my improvement in completing these games will translate into cognitive advancement in other areas. Because of my initial and continued skepticism about the effectiveness of programs like Lumosity, I did a little research on both Lumosity’s website and the Internet to see if I could draw any significant conclusions about the effectiveness of these brain-training exercises.

Unfortunately, there is no clear agreement on this issue at all – no consensus appears evident as to the efficacy of these exercises in improving cognitive abilities. Lumosity’s website highlights around 15 studies showing the benefits of the service in improving cognitive functioning; there are some 40 other studies in progress on the subject. While some studies have shown improvements, other studies have raised concerns about the effectiveness of these cognitive improvement services. One study in particular showed that although improvements were made with respect to use of the exercises themselves, there were significant issues with respect to generalizability of the results.

We can only wait for further research to be conducted and for a consensus to develop as to the effectiveness of these brain-training services. Regardless of the lack of agreement on the issue, I find myself rather entertained by these cognitive games and fully intend to continue completing these daily exercises. I think that continuing to keep our minds active, especially as we age, cannot be a bad thing. Services like Luminosity are, at least, just another tool to keep our brains busy and agile. Particularly, I think of my grandparents and how Luminosity could be a great way to keep their minds active, as they get older.